In Mesoamerican archaeology, hacha, the Spanish word for axe, refers to players’ equipment used in the ball game. The actual hachas used in ball games however, were probably made of lighter materials. They share a prominent indentation in their lower back corner that may originally have been functional and probably served to attach them to other ritual trappings. In Veracruz reliefs and on decorated ceramic vessels, hachas are shown attached to ball game yokes (see PC.B.037). In other instances, stone hachas were inserted in the upper borders of ball courts and could have functioned as a kind of marker for the game.
This hacha represents an individual wearing a helmet attached by a double strap to the chin. The helmet is in the shape of a macaw bird head. Animal attributes could indicate the group or social affiliation of high-ranking individuals or their impersonation of a particular supernatural being. The macaw bird appears repeatedly in the Maya myth of the Popol Vuh where Hero Twins trick and defeat the underworld lords and the arrogant god Seven Macaw (Vucub Caquix), giving hope to humankind. The symbolic importance of the macaw bird in the Mesoamerican ball game is reinforced by its recurrent representation in stone ritual paraphernalia in both the Veracruz and Maya regions.
The individual on this hacha has closed eyes and an open mouth, perhaps alluding to the severed heads of victims of ritual sacrifice. Sacrifice and decapitation were important elements of the ball-game ritual throughout Mesoamerica. Ball court markers, decorated columns, and carved reliefs from Classic Veracruz show images of players being decapitated in the ball court. Other stone objects with similar iconography were deposited in tombs as funerary offerings, underlining the importance of the ball game not only in the world of the living but also in the afterlife.
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Bliss, Robert Woods 1947 Indigenous Art of the Americas: Collection of Robert Woods Bliss. National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 22, 107, cat. 102.
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Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 206-7.
Liljevalchs konsthall 1952 Mexikansk Konst Från Forntid Till Nutid. Katalog; Nr. 201. Liljevalchs konsthall, Stockholm. cat. 665d.
Musée National d'Art Moderne 1952 Art Mexicain Du Précolombien Á Nos Jours. 2 ed. Presses artistiques, Paris. cat. 333.
Proskouriakoff, Tatiana 1954 Varieties of Classic Central Veracruz Sculpture. Contributions to American Anthropology and History; V. 12, No. 58. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., p. 79, fig. 3.
Rivet, Paul and Gisèle Freund 1954 Mexique Précolombien. Collection Des Ides Photographiques; 8. Éditions Ides et calendes, Neuchâtel. pl. 24.
Seymour, Charles 1949 Tradition and Experiment in Modern Sculpture. American University Press, Washington. p. 85.
"Art méxicain du précolombien à nos jours", Musée National d 'art Moderne, Paris, France, 5/9 - 7/30/1952 (catalogue # 333).
"Mexikansk Konst fran Forntid till Nutid", Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden, 1952 (catalogue # 665 d).
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to march 1952, February 1954 to July 1962.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, March 29, 1946.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, ca. 1946-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.